Law and Conversation

December 23, 2010

Three for 2011

Filed under: Books and writing,Law,reading — Helen Gunnarsson @ 2:27 pm

Earlier this week I mentioned looking back over what I’ve read in 2010 and considering what goals to set in 2011. 

It can be dangerous to mention a goal to another person.  Have you ever indiscreetly mentioned a project to someone who later, after all hope of completing it had evaporated, pointedly asked you in front of others how it was going?  That happened to me years ago, and I’m still wondering whether I was the only one who had that passive-aggressive individual’s number.

As many others have noted, publicly announcing a goal can also be a good way of putting extra pressure on yourself to complete it.  I’ve read a number of wonderful books I might not have but for committing to others that I’d do so.  And, unlike the project I unwisely let slip to that frenemy so many years ago, I really love reading, so motivation is not an issue.

Here are three reading goals of mine for 2011:

1) A Dickens novel.  Haven’t read one in a couple of years, and I’m thinking it’s time for “Little Dorrit.”

2) A nice, juicy biography.  Much as I love biographies, I haven’t read enough of them this year.  I’m thinking of Benita Eisler’s “O’Keefe and Stieglitz,” which has been on my nightstand for way too long.

3) “Can You Forgive Her?” by Anthony Trollope.  Best known for his Palliser and Barsetshire novel series, his pictures of human nature in 19th-century England are entertaining and dead-on.

A further goal of mine is to think and write more about the legal issues that the stories in these and other books raise.  As the discussion with the authors of the delightful new blog on comics and the law, “Law and the Multiverse,” shows, even the most fantastic fiction–to say nothing of even more fantastic real-life tales–provides fodder for legal thought.

What are your reading goals for 2011? 

This is my last post for 2010.  See you next year!

December 21, 2010

Read This: Comics and the Law

Filed under: Books and writing,Law,Read This! — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:01 am
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Comics and graphic novel fans, hie yourselves over to Law and the Multiverse NOW!!   Especially if you also happen to be attorneys!  As The New York Times reports today, two lawyers have just started up this intriguing blog focusing on comics and the law.  They’re tweeting, too, so go follow them on Twitter, as I just did!

In the meantime, I’ll be making good on my promise to RedHead (the Little Red Reviewer) to read “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by December 31.  She completed her end of the deal a few weeks ago by reading Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.”  I’m also looking back on the reading and writing I’ve done this year and forward to my goals for next year, which include reading and writing even more than I have in 2010 and focusing even more on storytelling.

How about you?  What stands out to you from your own reading or writing in 2010?  What do you hope to accomplish in 2011, and what role are stories playing in your life?

December 17, 2010

E-readers and privacy

Filed under: Books and writing,judiciary,Law,legal technology,privacy,reading,Technology — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:58 am
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No matter how much you love your old-fashioned paper books, it’s hard not to own up to a few little covetous twinges when you see people with Kindles or sleek iPads.

Students who download their texts on e-readers must love not having to carry around the extra weight of traditional texts.  They must also find being able to highlight, underline, or make notes in their e-books, as the Kindle application permits, incredibly convenient.  Those who commute or travel also love their e-readers, for the same reasons.

But those capabilities have legs which give e-readers a creepiness factor.  I took note some months ago of Gretchen Rubin’s post advising that if you download a book on a Kindle and highlight or take notes, the device reports back to Amazon about your highlighting or notetaking.  NPR now picks up on the issue by reporting on other data that’s transmitted back to Amazon, or Google, or Apple, or whatever other company manufactured your e-reader or the application you use.  Those companies know, or have the capability of knowing, when you read, when you stop reading, where you were while you were reading, and whether you read the whole book or stopped at page 45. 

This information may prove immensely useful to businesses who want to sell more products to consumers, of course.  But what might a government inclined to monitor its citizens’ activities closely do with information about people’s thought processes, I wonder?  Might the government of, say, China require all university students to use e-readers that report students’ reading habits and notetaking back to it, I wonder?

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported that at least two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court read briefs on their e-readers, as do an increasing number of judges on lower courts.  What if those judges highlight or underline the arguments of counsel?  Do the e-reader applications they use report that data?  What implications for judicial decisionmaking does that carry?

Of course, data about individuals’ browsing habits is already stored in multiple locations on different computers and servers.  When in doubt, you can assume that online publications generally know your IP address, which articles you’ve clicked on, and other information about you.  If you buy books online, or in a store using a credit card or frequent buyer program, there’s a record of the books you’ve bought.  If you check books out of a library, there’s a record.  Bottom line:  we trade our privacy for what electronic devices, applications, and the internet offer.

NPR quotes Stephen King on the data collection issue as follows:  “Ultimately, this sort of thing scares the hell out of me,” King says. “But it is the way that things are.”

In related news, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held this week that citizens have the same expectation of privacy in their e-mails as in their snail mail letters and phone conversations, so that the government must obtain a search warrant before seizing and searching e-mails held by private e-mail providers.  Hat tip for this and the WSJ Law Blog item:  Ed Walters of FastCase.

December 16, 2010

Three food books for 2011

Filed under: Books and writing,Cooking,reading — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
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Dos Hombres, a Mexican restaurant in Colorado Springs, recently tweeted a quote from the writer Laurie Colwin:  “One of the delights of life is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating.”  The quote, from the foreword to “Home Cooking,” her first collection of essays on food, continues “And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.”  Colwin was a wonderful storyteller, and I can well imagine that she told and listened to many wonderful stories about food and many other matters over good meals with her friends and family.

This week I wrote about Laurie Colwin and her books as part of my Read This! series in which I recommend books that I really, really love and want everyone in the world to read.  As Christmas approaches, with opportunities and occasions for those very delights of life about which Colwin wrote so many lovely essays, I’m still thinking about her, as well as about some other writers’ wonderful books on food that I posted about last week.  

During the end-of-the-year holidays, it’s traditional not only to make and share special foods and meals with family and friends but also to look forward to the New Year and make plans and resolutions.  Why not take some time to include some reading plans for the year to come?

Inspired partly by rereading Laurie Colwin, here are three books from my reading list that I hope to get to in 2011.  All are well-known as landmarks of culinary writing, and all three writers had colorful and fascinating lives–a storyteller’s dream.

1)  My Life In France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme.

2)  The Art of Eating, by M.F.K. Fisher.

3) Italian Cooking, by Elizabeth David, which Colwin particularly recommends–or any of David’s other books, none of which I’ve read.

What foods are you making and sharing for the holidays, and are there any food books on your reading list?

December 14, 2010

Read This: Laurie Colwin

I never met and never corresponded with writer Laurie Colwin, but when I learned of her sudden death in 1992 at the age of 48, I felt as if I’d lost a good friend.  Judging from the tributes to her on the Internet, I wasn’t alone.

Colwin wrote short stories, many of which were first published in The New Yorker, and a few novels, all of which focus on the inner and domestic lives of comfortably well-off upper middle-class professionals, all of whom are fundamentally good people. 

Stories about uniformly nice people who have no problems in their lives and always behave themselves would be boring, of course.   So Colwin gives all of her characters some measure of dissatisfaction with their seemingly perfect lives and has some of them shake things up with less than perfect behavior.  She doesn’t go into the depth about her characters’ angst or the effects of their unseemly behavior on their loved ones that, say, a Dostoevsky would, nor does she provide as much of a resolution of her characters’ stories as some might like, but then again, every writer doesn’t have to be Dostoevsky.

Colwin also wrote a column on food and cooking for Gourmet magazine and published two collections of those columns in “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking,” which are even more popular than her fiction.  In each of these essays, she tells a story about some aspect of food or cooking, often including a recipe toward the end.  Like other effective writers, she shows how a good story makes any topic interesting.

I started thinking about the stories in those books again after trying the famous no-knead bread recipe from Mark Bittman’s column in The New York Times, which I mentioned last week.  In her essay on breadmaking, Colwin voices the same feelings many of us home cooks have:  much as we love fresh, crusty, yeasted bread, because making it seems like a long, fussy, difficult chore, we seldom do it.  Her essay and Bittman’s video debunk that conventional “wisdom.”

Colwin’s sudden, untimely, unexpected death illustrates the need for end-of-life and end-of-career planning no matter what your age, which I recently wrote about in an article on selling a law practice that will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Illinois Bar Journal.

All of Colwin’s books are still in print, a further tribute to the effectiveness of her writing and the love that so many old and new readers find for her.  What writer seems to speak to you as if he or she were a really good friend, even though you’ve never met?

UPDATE:  Here is another blogger’s lovely post about how Laurie Colwin’s books comforted her at a difficult time in her life.  And here is the link to the new home of that blog, The Cleaner Plate Club.  It’s beautifully written–do check it out!

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